‘Aina Kupuna, Hoku Zuttermeister, (Kaleiola Records)
‘Aina Kupuna may be Hoku Zuttermeister’s debut album, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Maybe it’s because he’s been performing for years with artists such as Jerry Santos, Na Palapalai and Ho‘okena. Maybe it’s because he created this recording with the backing of some big guns of Hawaiian music: The members of Makaha Sons executive produce, and Robert Cazimero lends both his voice and his liner notes expertise. The result is a seriously professional package, with the emphasis on serious.
I’m not convinced this is an entirely good thing, though. The song selection is unassailable—Zuttermeister takes on nuanced, mature compositions such as Frank Hewett’s “La‘ieikawai” and his own great-grandmother Kau‘i’s “Na Pua Lei ‘Ilima”—but it’s all so earnest, so measured, so solemn. You can only listen to so many of these in a row before feeling the need to stretch your legs. The sun does come out a bit, finally, near the album’s end, with “Ka Ua Kilihune” and “‘Aina Kupuna E/Ho‘i Ke Aloha i Ra‘iatea,” but it sure feels like a long slog to get there.
Zuttermeister’s first effort is technically flawless, and chock full of nutritious Hawaiiana. It’s just not that fun.